When I first started climbing, around 2 years ago (but who’s counting!?), I tried climbing every day, in every way I possibly could, on anything I possibly could. Climbing gyms, bouldering gyms, outdoor routes, — I was just slightly obsessed.
Once climbing became a part of my life, everything was a climbing wall. A brick building with gaps between the bricks? Climbing wall. A solid wooden table? Climbing wall- just traverse around it. Any number of statues, playground equipment, public sculptures, bridges—literally anything.
Many friends and other climbers asked me this question before, so to make it short: No you should not climb everyday – at least not for extended periods of time. As a beginner your tendons and ligaments need time to heal and rest and get stronger. When you become more advanced, climbing everyday for a week or two is ok, but even then resting is always good for your body.
The age old question
One question that plagues all climbers, new or the grizzled seasoned pro, a question that is a battle between heart, mind, and body…The age-old question of: “Should I climb every day?” Because I really, really want to.
After about a year spent trashing myself, climbing every day; my fingers were destroyed, and I was experiencing some pretty extreme bicep pain. It sort of felt like my bicep muscle was pulling off the bone. I was always sore and my climbing plateaued, but the idea of taking a day off, or heaven forbid— taking two or three days off, was nightmarish. How could I possibly get better by taking days off?!
Resting – the secret weapon of advanced climbers
Any established climber, anyone that’s been pushing themselves for a while will tell you; resting is as important for your climbing as climbing is. Even professional climbers use resting as a tool, only climbing every day during peak periods in a training cycle or on a climbing trip, then usually, taking a decent length break to recover.
One of the worst things you can do for your climbing performance is going too hard, for too long without antiquate rests in-between.
But how much is too much when everyone is different and how do I know when to rest?
Train, climb and rest in cycles.
Though it’s tempting to just jump on the project all day, every day, this can quickly lead to pains and strains, especially in climbers that haven’t let their tendons and pulleys naturally strengthen.
Working with a 3-days-on 2-days-off cycle, making sure each session is of a different intensity is often a good route to go down. This allows the body to peak naturally and rest adequately. It doesn’t necessarily need to be exactly 3 days on, 2 days off—it could be 2 on, 2 off or 4 on and 3 off. It all depends on what works for you.
The first session can be used as a warm-up, and the goal is to not crush the hardest routes possible; the goal is mileage. Work on technique, and finding ways of not working too hard should always be the goal. Getting into this mindset is also helpful for sending days, as you’re always looking for the easiest, most energy conserving way of doing a crux.
4×4 Circuits – the magic bullet for progression
Implementing 4×4 circuits are a good way of doing this. Choose 4 boulder problems that are between 3-5 grades below your limit. So if the hardest problem you’ve sent is V5, choose between V1- V3. Climb the first problem 4 times, as in, once you’ve sent the first problem, drop back down and immediately climb it 3 more times, then rest for 2 minutes. Do the same thing for the remaining three problems, then rest 5-10 minutes. That’ll complete one set of 4x4s. From here you can either repeat this or choose 4 different problems of the same grade. The goal is 3 sets.
You shouldn’t feel too sore after this session, and you definitely shouldn’t feel any pain during. You should feel good and psyched for tomorrow. Learn to recognize good pain and bad pain. A burn in the arms, legs and abdominal muscles after a session is good, but nagging deep pain in index finger or forearm is bad, and shouldn’t be ignored.
Better general fitness promotes shorter recovery periods.
Including other forms of training, otherwise known as cross-training, can help boost your climbing game and improve your recovery time drastically. Include Yoga practices, Tabata sessions, light running or cycling—anything that will get your heart going and improve cardio. Aerobic workouts have been shown to increase the size of blood vessels, therefore allowing the blood to flow more freely and more easily throughout the body.
If your fingers or arms are ‘bad’ hurting while climbing, STOP!
Building muscles and gaining a sweet six pack is relatively easy when climbing. This is why most elite climbers look like a Greek statue. Muscles generally build fast, and you can notice a physical result both in looks and strength gains within weeks. Unfortunately, not all body parts work that way.
Tendons and pulley take a lot longer to build and strengthen, and injuries to these parts are some of the more common injuries amongst the rock climbing population. They are injuries you really don’t want, as these can take a long time- often months- to heal properly. They are also injuries that are avoidable by just listening to your body. Finger injuries are among the most common injuries climbers are prone to, and
pulley injuries or Biceps Tendinopathy — are not fun either.
So take it slow, and if something hurts in a ‘bad’ way, stop. Talk to other climbers, talk to a physiotherapist, figure out what it is—never ignore it.
Rest like you train.
Remember, even on rest days, you’re still training, just in a different way. And these rest days are just as important as your climbing days. You’re training your body to recover. These days can be spent looking after your gnarly hand skin, eating well (think whole foods), analyzing climbing videos, stretching—whatever you like, just nothing too physically strenuous. The climbing days are for you to do, your muscles and your brain. Rest days are up to your body. Let it do its thing.
Should I rock climb every day? In short, no. Not if you want to be a lifelong climber.
Alex Lowe Peak once said “the best climber is the one having the most fun”, and to me, not a truer thing has been said. When it really comes down to it, we ultimately only climb because it’s fun, and climbing injured and full of pain isn’t fun. To many, climbing is not only a sport, but it’s also a lifelong relationship that is only possible with injury prevention. So have fun out there, avoid injury and you’ll hopefully still be sending when you’re 95! Read my other article on building endurance for more information on proper training regimes!